The Rochelle varsity boys basketball team thrives on ball movement and defensive pressure. While the Hubs can deploy shooters like Johnny Beck, Landan Martin, Kaleb Ackland and Garrett Burdin to give teams trouble from 3-point range, Rochelle needs guards who can facilitate the offense effectively in order for those shooters to get clean looks at the basket.
That’s where junior guard Austin Brown enters the picture.
Brown has appeared in all 30 games for the Hubs this season, dishing out an average of four assists per game. The first-year varsity guard has recorded 6.1 assists per game over his last eight games, however, and his best performances include totaling 10 assists in Rochelle’s win over Morris on Jan. 26 and dishing out 12 assists when the Hubs topped Princeton on Feb. 15. Brown’s 12 assists tied for the second-most in a game by any RTHS player in school history.
“Passing the ball and getting teammates open shots makes our shooters happy and it makes the team happy,” Brown said. “It makes the whole team work, and nobody gets upset when they’re hitting wide-open shots. It’s helped keep the team together… I’ve adapted to playing more point guard.”
Brown and the Hubs have endured a topsy-turvy season filled with injuries, strong performances and lopsided losses. Nevertheless, Rochelle has peaked at the right time, and the Hubs will carry their recent winning stretch into the IHSA Class 3A Freeport Regional, which begins Monday evening. Brown said the team’s next-man-up mentality has helped fill the void during difficult times this winter.
“It’s definitely been an up-and-down season with multiple injuries happening to important players,” Brown said. “We needed everybody to step up when players like Johnny, Seth [Gould] and Noah [Knight] were down. When I came in this season, I was mainly trying to score the ball, but with that came a lot of turnovers… not turning the ball over as much as I did earlier in the season has really helped.”
Brown plays two sports at Rochelle, competing with the varsity boys soccer team during the fall season before trading his cleats in for basketball shoes when winter arrives. Brown began playing basketball in seventh grade after receiving some encouragement from his friends, and while he’s played soccer since he was 3 years old, he said basketball quickly became his favorite sport.
“I liked watching the NBA growing up, but I never really played when I was a kid,” Brown said. “I enjoy the atmosphere during home games. Seeing our fans go nuts and hearing the fans cheering… It’s a really great atmosphere to be a part of. Basketball is more intense, and soccer is a slower-paced game, plus it’s extremely tiring.”
Brown said that coaches Tim Thompson and Jared Johnson have helped him improve his game most while also keeping him on track mentally. The sixth-seeded Hubs will open regional play against tenth-seeded Freeport on Monday, in what will be a rematch from earlier this month, when the Pretzels beat Rochelle 80-67 over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“It will be difficult playing in Freeport’s gym since they’ll have a lot of fans there,” Brown said. “We need to be fast out of the gate and we need to be ready to play. We came out flat the last time we faced them, and they scored on almost every possession. We’ve worked a lot on our defense, and I think that if we can keep their score low, we can come out with a win.”